I recently was reminded of this song by “Weird Al” Yankovic. Take a look.
This song was released in 2009 but I feel like it’s only taken on more meaning as I’ve moved into middle-age. There are definitely things I had hoped to accomplish before now, dreams I held onto in my 20’s and even 30’s that I haven’t really done the work to pursue because my goals changed or I just decided that my energy needed to be spent elsewhere.
But rather than reminisce and bemoan what might have been, I wanted to focus on a different aspect of the song: what Dan does and doesn’t do.
“Dusty, why don’t you just try acting?”
When I was in eighth grade, my class took an end-of-year trip to Universal Studios Florida. Back then (the early-mid 90’s), there were several themed rides that have long since been retired/replaced. The ones I remember most vividly were the Jaws boat ride and the King Kong cable-car/subway (?) ride.
When we got into the boat with our “captain” for the Jaws ride, she delivered her script with gusto, as if this were the first time she’d ever led a crew of people into the dangerous, shark-infested waters. When the great white surfaced, she yelled convincingly, “LOOK OUT, THERE HE IS!” and my little 13-year-old heart sank. At the climax of the ride, she pulled out a comically-large rocket-launcher style weapon and “fired” it at the deadly shark, who exploded in a splash of water and smoke and audio-visual flair. As we pulled safely back into harbor, our captain breathlessly congratulated us on surviving the ordeal, and everyone disembarked with smiles on their faces.
The King Kong ride could not have been a starker contrast. The “tour guide” for our New York adventure had all the gusto and excitement of a customer entering Hour 3 of waiting at the DMV. Her lines were so deadpanned that Aubrey Plaza would have seemed like Carrot Top by comparison. (How’s that for a wild mix of dated pop-culture references?) Even when the big ape seemed to be reaching out to grasp the car we were “riding” in, the tour guide could barely evoke vocal inflection. “Oh no. It looks like Kong is trying to grab us. Everyone hold on.”
Obviously, both rides held no real danger from the animatronic beasts and it was all in good fun, but when the Jaws captain really went for it, it made the suspension of belief that much easier.
Here’s my point: there is power in doing the mundane things well. However, in the song, Skipper Dan has realized that the theme-park job wasn’t the easy stepping stone to a dream career that he apparently expected it to be, and eventually he lets it grind him down so that he becomes resentful rather than trying to do something about it. He loses hope because he thinks that what matters most is what he’s doing rather than how and why he’s doing it.
Cal Newport, in his excellent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You, talks about how the path to career fulfillment isn’t in seeking the perfect job or the dream job. It’s in seeking out a job you can do well and becoming masterful at it, so that you can parlay that career capital into an adjacent line of work that’s closer to your “dream” or that provides you with quality-of-life benefits that you couldn’t achieve otherwise.
This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about over the last few years, wrestling with it in my mind. In those times of career frustration and boredom, it’s often that I’ve lost sight of the power of daily excellence.
More than that, I’ve lost sight of my ultimate goal.
“Do it for her.”
There’s a famous moment in an early episode of The Simpsons, in which Homer (who, you will recall, works at a control panel in a nuclear plant) notices a poster on the office wall that says, “Don’t Forget, You’re Here Forever.” He strategically covers the wall (as well as certain parts of this poster) with a collage of pictures of his daughter Maggie, so that the visible letters now spell out “Do It For Her.”
I recently took the template from this moment in the show, and recreated it with pictures of my wife and daughters. Using Microsoft Paint and a little editing magic, my work computer wallpaper now says “Do It For Them.”
I’ll be honest, y’all: I’m not often super-jazzed about my job. I know that it matters, and I know the good that it accomplishes. There are just days or weeks (or even longer) where it feels like an endless field of thistles and thorns: the constant emptying of an inbox or work queue that gets refilled instantly, or non-stop email threads involving a parade of outside company reps who all inexplicably “just started recently” and don’t understand how my organization operates in regard to theirs. It adds up to a frequent feeling of pointlessness to the proceedings because I can’t see the fruit of my labor. (It’s not nearly as satisfying as mowing the yard, that’s for sure.)
I have to remember on those difficult days that I’m doing work that matters not only so that I can serve our clients, but so I can take care of my family. I have a wife and three little girls that count on me to get it done and provide.
And if that wasn’t motivation enough, there’s a greater reason that’s even easier to lose sight of: I’m working for the Lord.
It’s a reality that I can pay lip-service to but not really take to heart. When I work, I not only work in submission to and with faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but I work on His behalf, representing Him (whether explicitly or implicitly) to the people I come in contact with, whether it’s the supervisor who knows if I hit or miss my daily deadlines, or the outside contractor rep who gets the sharp edge of my frustrated email exchanges. In all of these things, I work for the Lord. And in all these moments, I have the opportunity to use my work ethic and skill and compassion to honor and bless others, as a gift to them and an offering of thanksgiving to God for the privilege of being able to work (since it’s only by His grace that I have the strength to produce a harvest).
Which brings us back to Skipper Dan, and to you and me. Whether you’re a tour guide on a jungle cruise ride, or a customer service rep for an auto parts company, or a park ranger keeping fire watch, or a keyboard cowboy working from home–whatever you do to earn a paycheck, do it well. Do it with intention and excellence. Become masterful at it. Look for ways to make the experience better for your customers or clients.
Not because it will always pay off with a dream job or a big break, but because people count on you to do your best, and because the One whose opinion matters most is always watching.